Water use limits? Placer County faces new state-driven normal

By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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With drought and climate change in mind, a new state law is ratcheting up California water conservation.

Just how far that will take water-saving efforts in Placer County and impact consumption is years in the future, according to a Placer County Water Agency official.

And in the near-term, there is no impact to customers, Public Affairs Manager Ross Branch said.

He added that because the new law’s regulations and standards will take years to develop, much remains unknown.

The CEO of the Association of California Water Agencies is making assurances that new requirements under Senate Bill 606 and Assembly Bill 1668 will not result in a house-by-house restrictions on water use.

“The new requirements do not restrict daily water use by individual customers, as has been erroneously reported by some,” ACWA Executive Director Timothy Quinn stated. “Instead it requires water agencies to develop agency-wide water budgets, with local agencies determining how best to keep aggregate water use in their communities below agency-wide, efficient water targets.”

55-gallon goal

When Gov. Jerry Brown signed the two bills into law May 31, he said they establish an indoor, per-person water-use goal of 55 gallons a day until 2025, 52.5 gallons from 2025 to 2030 and 50 gallons starting in 2030. Placer Water said that the average residential indoor use in the Sacramento region is currently about 66 gallons a day.

Also part of the legislation are requirements for both urban and agricultural water suppliers to set annual water budgets and prepare for drought.

Branch said Placer Water has received inquiries from customers about what the legislation means to them and has answered that there is no near-term impact.

“The water budget developed for PCWA over the coming years will be based on a number of factors, including the irrigable landscape of individual parcels, but the agency will be assigned an aggregate number,” Branch said. “We encourage customers who choose to upgrade appliances or replace landscape to consider one of the agency’s many rebate programs and water-efficiency services.”

Both Placer Water and ACWA fought initial, more stringent provisions in the bills.

“From ACWA’s perspective, this allows us to check the box next to ‘conservation as away of life in California,’” Quinn said. “We advocated for key amendments to these bills and although not all of them were accepted, the final legislation is much improved compared to the initial drafts.”
Crucial amendments included more recognition of local autonomy and authority, and incentives for recycled water, Quinn said.

“Without advocacy efforts, the legislation would have been much worse,” Branch said.

Placer Water opposed

Nevertheless, Placer Water remained opposed to the legislation because it does not have a water-supply problem in its service area, Branch said.

“Customer investments in our infrastructure have provided the agency with a robust and reliable water supply, with plenty of entitlements for future development without adversely affecting existing customers,” Branch said.

Branch added that in Northern California, urban demands average 2 percent to 3 percent of the available surface water.

“That means conserving an extra 15 percent of water throughout Northern California yields a net increase of about 0.5 percent of the overall water supply,” Branch said.

The agency’s current focus is to build on successful efforts customers have voluntarily made over the past several years to become more water-efficient, he said.

“We plan to remain involved as the regulatory process moves forward to defend the efficient and beneficial use of water by our customers,” Branch said.